Posted in Netgalley

The Unheard by Nicci French.

I read this novel on the four hour drive to North Wales and spent most of the first day of my holiday absolutely enthralled with the story. I was hooked immediately, intrigued by the mystery of what exactly Tess’s daughter Poppy had seen or heard. Tess is starting a new life in a garden flat with her daughter, after a divorce from husband Jason. Having a background as a child of divorce, Tess was determined that Poppy should be their number one priority. No matter how much animosity and hurt they feel, their interaction with each other must be civil and they prioritise time with both parents. Jason is already remarried to Emily, a much younger woman who seems very sweet and tries hard to have a relationship with Poppy. They have set times for Poppy to visit and stay over at her dad’s house and this has been going well, although every time Poppy’s belongings are put in a bag to transfer from one house to the other, Tess hopes she understands what is happening to her. Tess has started seeing a man called Aidan recently and she’s optimistic about their relationship so far. One Saturday, Poppy returns from an overnight at her father’s and displays signs of distress. These were classic symptoms, that any counsellor like me, would be concerned by. She’s clingy, she wets the bed and seems to be having nightmares. Over a week these symptoms worsen: she bites a girl at school, uses foul language to her teacher, and her mother is terrified for her. She has her attention drawn to a picture Poppy has drawn, all in black crayon which is a huge contrast from her normal rainbow creations. The picture shows a tower and a woman falling from the top to the ground below. ‘He killed her’ she tells her Mum ‘and killed and killed and killed’.

I was hooked and my partner claims I barely spoke to him for two days straight because I was so absorbed in Poppy’s world. Tess is scared for her daughter, but what can she actually do without traumatising her further? Jason insists it’s just a drawing and probably doesn’t mean anything. No one seemed as alarmed as Tess, so who can she go to? This sets in motion an enthralling story where my suspicions were first sent in one direction, then another. As well as suspecting every character at different points in the novel, I was also wondering whether it was about Tess. Was she an over concerned mother affected by her divorce and her ex-husband’s sudden remarriage? The writer excels at bringing tiny little clues into the narrative that create a doubt in the reader’s mind. Bernie, the upstairs neighbour, is a little odd and makes a couple of remarks to Tess that concerned me. Was he dangerous or just a little eccentric and inappropriate at times? Weird coincidences cropped up that couldn’t be explained by anything except foul play or malicious intent. However, the more this happened, Tess became even more anxious and started to give the impression of being unhinged. As the police became involved, they suspected an overprotective mother and couldn’t find anything to investigate. This spurred Tess on to carry out her own investigation, searching for women who’d died falling from a building and trying to forge links with people in their circle. One sympathetic officer does try to help, but ends up with a dressing down for wasting her time. It takes a long time, and some near misses, for Tess to sit back and realise what her behaviour must look like from the outside. However, just because someone appears over anxious, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to worry about.

I think one of these author’s many strengths is their ability to conjure up the ordinary everyday moments we all recognise in life, between the tension and scares. It helps the reader identify with these characters, to accept that they’re real and empathise even more with their predicament. I could feel the tension coming off Tess, and the hurt as well, because some of her discoveries are personally painful. Yet she still has to get Poppy up and to school, then go to work and come home to cook tea and do those domestic chores that we all do in a day. The mental load of being a single parent is enough without the extra suspicions about every new person who has come into their circle. Her fear that someone has invaded that safe, domestic space is one all readers can identify with. The tension is almost unbearable towards our final revelation and it wasn’t the ending I was expecting at all. It makes you think about how far you would go to protect your children. This was a fascinating, addictive read with a menacing atmosphere throughout. Be prepared to lose a couple of days if you pick up this book, you won’t regret it.

Published on 16th September 2021 by Simon and Schuster UK


Nicci French is the pseudonym of English husband-and-wife team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, who write psychological thrillers together.

Posted in Personal Purchase

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

I’m a big fan of this author’s previous novels Into The Water and The Girl on the Train. Incidentally, I didn’t like the latter’s film relocation to upstate New York, because I didn’t feel it had the necessary grit of the book’s London location and lost something in translation. I’ve been looking forward to her new novel and I spent the weekend on my chaise longue reading it with a bar of Green and Blacks Sea Salt. Pure bliss! The novel is set in London, on a stretch of the Regent’s Canal between Bethnal Green and Islington. We open with a body being found on one of the canals, the deceased is a young man his neighbour only knows as Daniel. When she boards his boat and finds his body covered in blood she knows she must ring the police. However, in typical Hawkins fashion, the author wishes to unsettle the reader and leave them unsure of who to trust. So, although his neighbour Miriam looks like a run of the mill, middle aged and overweight woman, used to being ignored, she does something unexpected. She notices a key next to the body, and as it doesn’t belong to the boat she picks it up and pockets it.

Our other characters are members of Daniel’s family, who live within walking distance of each other in this area. Daniel’s mother Angela is an alcoholic, in a very strained relationship with her only child until his death. Then there’s his Aunty Carla and Uncle Theo who live near the boat. Daniel appears to have a closer relationship with his Aunty Carla, than he did with his mother, but is it really what it seems? Miriam has noticed some odd comings and goings from the boat next door. This is a family with secrets, both old ones and current ones. Miriam noticed that the girl who works in the local launderette, Laura, was with Daniel on the night in question and they had a row. Laura could have killed him, but Miriam doesn’t think so. Then there’s Irene, an elderly lady who lives next door to Angela and has also noticed some strange behaviour next door too. She knows the family well although Angela has often been too distracted by her own life to form a friendship. Irene does have a soft spot for Laura who helps her out from time to time, by going shopping or running errands. Like Miriam, Irene is also wondering if everything is what it seems with this murder. Lonely people observe a lot and although the family won’t realise this, she’s in possession of a lot of information. Something seismic happened to this family years before, something that changed the lives of everyone involved. Might that have a bearing on their current loss? Could that be the small flame, burning slowly for many years, before erupting into life and destroying everything?

I absolutely fell in love with Laura. She has a disability that affects her mobility and, along with many other symptoms, she has problems keeping her temper. Her hot-headed temperament has led to a list of dealings with the police. This isn’t her normal character though, this rage seems to come from the accident she had as a child. She was knocked down by a car on a country road while riding her bike and broke her legs, as well as sustaining a head injury which has affected her ability to regulate her emotions. Further psychological trauma was caused when she found out the man who hit her, was not just driving along a country round, but driving quickly away from an illicit encounter. Who told him to drive away and why? Laura feels very betrayed and now when she feels threatened, or let down, that rage bubbles to the surface. She’s her own worst enemy, unable to stop her mouth running away with her, even with the police. She has a heart of gold, but very light fingers. She’s shown deftly whipping a tote bag from the hallway of Angela’s house, but in the next moment trying to help Irene when she can’t get out. I found myself rooting for her, probably because she’s an underdog, like Miriam. Miriam feels that because of her age, looks and influence she is completely invisible. She has been passed over in life so many times, it’s become the norm. However, there is one thing she is still angry about. She wrote a memoir several years ago and showed it to a writer; she believes he stole her story for his next book and she can’t let that go.

I love how the author writes her characters and how we learn a little bit different about them, depending on who they’re interacting with. They’re all interlinked in some way, and their relationships become more complex with time. As with her huge hit The Girl on the Train, the author plays with our perceptions and biases. She doesn’t just plump for one unreliable narrator, every character is flawed in some way and every character is misunderstood. We see that Miriam is not the stereotypical middle-aged woman others might think she is, as soon as she pockets that piece of evidence at the crime scene. Others take longer to unmask themselves, but when they do there’s something strangely satisfying about it. We even slip into the past to deepen our understanding of this complicated group of people, letting us into all their dirty little secrets, even those of our victim Daniel. When I’m counselling, something I’m aware of is that I’m only hearing one person’s perspective of an event. Sometimes, that’s all it needs, some good listening skills and letting the client hear it themselves. Yet, it is only one part of a much bigger story. Occasionally, I do get an inkling of what the other person in the story might have felt and I might ask ‘do you think your wife heard it like that or like this?’ If I say ‘if my partner did or said what you did, I might feel….’ it makes the client think and asks that they communicate more in their relationship. Sometimes the intention behind what we say becomes lost in the telling. That’s how it was reading this book, because we do hear nearly every perspective on an event, but also how each event or interaction affects the others. The tension rises and it was another late night as I had to keep reading to the end. Paula Hawkins has become one of those authors whose book I would pre-order unseen, knowing I’m going to enjoy it. In my eyes this book cements her position as the Duchess of Domestic Noir.

Meet The Author.

PAULA HAWKINS worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. Born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Paula moved to London in 1989 and has lived there ever since. Her first thriller, The Girl on the Train, has been a global phenomenon, selling 23 million copies worldwide. Published in over forty languages, it has been a No.1 bestseller around the world and was a No.1 box office hit film starring Emily Blunt.

Into the Water, her second stand-alone thriller, has also been a global No.1 bestseller, spending twenty weeks in the Sunday Times hardback fiction Top 10 bestseller list, and six weeks at No.1.

A Slow Fire Burning was published on 31st August by Doubleday.

Posted in Netgalley

House of Whispers by Anna Kent

Some secrets aren’t meant to be kept…

When Grace returns to Abi’s life, years after they fell out at university, Abi can’t help but feel uneasy. Years ago, Grace’s friendship was all-consuming and exhausting.

Now happily married, Abi’s built a new life for herself and put those days behind her. And yet as Grace slips back into her life with all the lethal charm she had before, Abi finds herself falling back under her spell…

Abi’s husband, Rohan, can’t help but be concerned as his wife’s behaviour changes. As their happy home threatens to fall apart, he realises that there’s something deeply unnerving about Grace. Just what influence does this woman have over his wife, and why has she come back now?

I seem to have read a few books in the last year that focus on the dynamics of female friendship. From the teenage years of Madam, where the school regime pits the girls against each other, to the middle aged years of The Nearest Thing to Crazy where a woman forms a friendship with a newcomer to the village and regrets it bitterly. This seems like a very rich mine for writers to delve into and this is an interesting addition to these psychological thrillers. Our oldest friends, so the saying goes, remain friends because they know where the bodies are buried. Our ‘besties’ are often the closest person to us in life, and in my experience have held me up when times have been too hard to keep going. When these close relationships go wrong, the mental scars can last a lifetime. Abi and Grace’s relationship seemed to become toxic at university, when Abi suspected Grace of trying to control her life. Soon after university Abi married Rohan and now they are renovating a house together. The house was derelict and as they’ve settled into it and started with their plans, Abi feels the years of history in the old house. The creak on the stair created by decades of weary feet. The sense of owners long gone and the weight of their memories.

When Grace writes to say she’s coming to the U.K. after years working abroad, the timing is serendipitous. Rohan has to work in New York for a while. Abi is going to be creating pieces for an art exhibition. Grace needs a place to stay till she finds her feet, and Abi feels enough water has passed under the bridge, maybe it will be fun to reconnect with her old friend? She’s probably changed in the intervening years and a catch up could be just what she needs to inspire her art. Besides it will be nice to have some company while Rohan is away.

It turns out that Abi is right, she does find her house guest inspiring and I was drawn in to the author’s descriptions of her work which were vivid and full of life. Her output soars and she’s making great headway into the pieces needed for her exhibition. I was interested in the psychology of creativity and the author taps into that long term link between artistic success and the deterioration of the mind. As Abi’s art is elevated, the rest of her life is soon suffering. It seems that maybe Grace has not changed after all. Abi can recognise her controlling behaviour and the passive aggressive way she deals with conflict, but wonders if she can handle it until her work is ready. No artist wants to give up their muse and Abi thinks that because she can recognise the behaviour, she won’t be manipulated. It’s like watching a fly edging ever closer to a spider’s web.

We know there has been a traumatic event in Abi’s past because the author drip feeds us little snippets of the past, in order to increase the tension. What this also does is create a bit of suspicion around our narrator. She values honesty in herself and others, even where it might sound harsh, but is she affording us the same honesty? Should we really trust our narrator. I thought the author cleverly linked the state of the house with Abi’s state of mind. She starts to neglect the house, becoming ever more hyper-focused on her paintings. Her life is starting to fall apart. Her in-laws are very concerned, but are struggling to intervene. As Rohan returns he notices a change in his wife, but puts it down to a fierce burst of creativity. However, as time passes he starts to wonder whether this friendship is healthy for his wife and their marriage. Yet, Grace seems to possess an incredible charm. Will she start to manipulate him too? There are interspersed sections that read like formal interviews with Rohan, but we don’t know if they’re with a lawyer, the police, a psychiatrist..? This had the effect of making me race forward with the book, dying to know how it unfolds. In the end though, it was best to just sit back and let the twists and turns reveal themselves. This was a competent and enjoyable thriller, with a fascinating and dangerous female friendship at the centre.

Published HQ 5th August 2021

Anna became a published author after the manuscript for her first novel, ‘Coming Home’, won the Montegrappa Prize for First Fiction at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in 2013. The book itself was published in 2015 and, since then, she’s written three more novels in the ‘domestic noir’ genre: ‘The Disappearance’, ‘The One That Got Away’ and ‘I Know You’.

On her Amazon author page she admits that she likes to set things up for her readers so they think they know what’s happening and then, very gently, she starts to pull the carpet out from underneath so that the reader– and often the characters themselves – are never quite sure what’s really going on. Scratch the surface of her characters’ lives and you’ll always find something dark going on. She’s currently working on a fifth book, which will be something slightly different.

She live in Dubai, UAE, with her husband, two children and a little Tonkinese rescue cat. She writes every day while the cat sleeps alongside her on a pile of old manuscripts. Writing isn’t an easy job, but she wouldn’t change it for the world.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Heights by Louise Candlish.

I feel slightly sucker punched only seconds after finishing this fantastic new thriller from Louise Candlish – a name I only came across when it appeared as a ‘you might also like’ recommendation on Amazon, but is now top of my list when it comes to twisty, delicious and impossible to put down thrillers. After the final twists in The Heights I think this might be her best yet. She has an incredibly incisive way of portraying middle class southern morés and the way they change and mutate under immense pressure. It’s like reading a weaponised Jane Austen for the 21st Century; what if Willoughby had been a killer or Wickham had kidnapped then killed Lydia? These are the same type of people, centuries apart, but still playing out gender and class politics. Except now it’s from a beautiful Victorian semi (with a large family room leading to bifold doors into the garden with pizza oven).

Kieran Watts has been dead for over two years. Yet, there he is, on the roof terrace of an exclusive building in Shad Thames. Called the heights – all lower case – this is a tall, thin building that you might not notice at all, had you not been standing in the window of the flat opposite. There are subtle changes. The physique for a start has had some work. There may even be a touch of plastic surgery here and there, but you know it’s him. Even though he’s meant to be dead. You were sure he was dead, because you were the one who had him killed.

Ellen Saint lives with husband Justin, their daughter Freya and Ellen’s son Lucas from her previous marriage to Vic. They really are the perfect family unit, with a shared parenting ethos for Lucas and everyone getting along well. Lucas is a bright teenager, possibly on course to apply to Oxbridge, who loves gaming and spending time with friends and girlfriend Jade. Then along comes Kieran Watts. Kieran moves nearby after being taking into care and placed into a foster home with Prisca. This puts him into the catchment area for Lucas’s school and on Kieran’s first day, Lucas is asked to ‘buddy’ Kieran and help him settle in. The two boys really hit it off and from here starts a spiral that’s only travelling one way, towards tragedy. Firstly, Lucas goes out a lot with Kieran and some older kids, who have cars. Then his grades start to slip and he uses bad language at home. Ellen fears his late nights, mornings in bed and red- rimmed eyes are down to drugs. She tries to reduce his time with Kieran, but only succeeds in pushing them together. Lucas and his girlfriend Jade, find Kieran funny. Ellen doesn’t. She sees the way Kieran looks at her. It’s bad enough when he’s dead behind the eyes, but when focused on her, Ellen sees defiance, challenge and threat. Tragedy strikes one evening, as the boys are out in Kieran’s car and veer off road into a lake. Kieran escapes, but Lucas’s seatbelt is jammed. Ellen can stop imagining her son in his final moments of realisation, panic and terrible fear. Kieran will be made to pay for this.

Ellen is a very single-minded character and I was never sure whether I liked her or not. There are times I think she was a snob, only wanting her son to be with other middle class kids. She also seems to be obsessed with Lucas at the expense of her daughter. Obviously she loves her children, but how much of her interest in Lucas is fuelled by his good looks, his academic prowess and future promise as a potential Oxbridge student. There is an element of Ellen’s concern which is caught up in what others think. She’s still very close with Vic, Lucas’s father, but he has a very different way of parenting. He has no qualms about Kieran, and let’s them hang out at his place. Ellen likes to think that she and Vic are on the same page and is proud of their ability to co-parent alongside her new husband Justin, but is Vic really in tune with Ellen’s values? I kept wondering if this small act of undermining Ellen, was a sign of greater betrayals to come. Similarly, Ellen acts unilaterally as soon as she sees Kieran at the heights. I was surprised that she never once talked with Justin, so they don’t work together on this discovery. After Kieran was sentenced for his part in Lucas’s accident, Ellen starts a media campaign about stronger sentencing for deaths caused by dangerous driving. However, Vic is her partner in this with Justin holding the fort at home. Don’t they agree? Or does Ellen simply disregard his feelings? Her love for her son and her deep sense of grief are driving her forwards and are stronger than her feelings for either husband or her daughter.

As usual Louise Candlish has written a fantastic thriller here. It has all the ingredients that keep you reading till the early hours. Short, snappy chapters keep the pace and tension throughout. There are twists and turns galore! Her incredible ability to analyse and dissect human nature is forensic in its detail. She lampoons middle class concerns here perfectly, from Ellen’s home that Vic remarks is just the right location and style for his ex-wife, to her determination that Lucas is Oxbridge material and shouldn’t be dragged backwards by someone like Kieran. Her children, on the other hand, are more than happy to mix with friends from different backgrounds. Ellen would probably consider herself liberal, but her actions and attitude betray other, perhaps more conservative values. Her very public campaign for longer sentencing seemed to be a distraction, something to throw herself into that potentially delays her grief. It was fascinating to see how such a seismic loss, affects each family member differently. This combination of raw family emotion and tense, thrilling, revelations makes for an incredibly intelligent and enjoyable read that’s impossible to put down until you read the final page.

Meet The Author

Louise Candlish is the author of 15 novels, a fact she can’t quite believe herself. THE HEIGHTS is her newest – Louise Candlish describes it as a ‘twisty revenge thriller whose narrator, Ellen, has a strange fear of heights known as ‘high place phenomenon’. You could say she’s my most Hitchcock-inspired character yet! I can’t wait for you to read it and share your thoughts.’

‘A bit about me: I live in a South London neighbourhood not unlike the one in my books, with my husband, teenage daughter, and a fox-red Labrador called Bertie who is the apple of my eye. Books, TV and long walks have been my top sanity savers during recent times. Oh, and wine’. From her Amazon Author page.